Thursday, April 01, 2021

The Radio-Free RFC Podcast

This podcast was originally published beginning in January 2005. It’s a light-hearted and humorous view of Internet “Request for Comments” or RFCs.

Here's some additional thoughts about this podcast, and the time in which it happened.

Early on in the podcast "movement", this podcast was representative of many of the podcasts published at that time. It was content from individuals that were passionate about what they were doing, and also wanted to take full advantage of the life-changing ability to directly address other people out there that shared their interests (through the internet), and who also had the technical skills and time to 1) produce audio and 2) use the internet distribution mechanisms of the time. 

Many of these early podcasts were exceptional. A lot of them were not great at all. But, there were a lot of choices. A lot of the voices were ordinary people. 

It is true that the voices heard tended to be from a narrow demographic. This has had lasting repercussions on podcasting, media, and the internet. However, at first, the voices were a bit more diverse than what they rapidly coalesced towards (white, male, wealthy).

In the beginning, there were multi-hour hacker podcasts (young, white, male, not wealthy) alongside music shows (mostly young white men) alongside amazing folk music shows (mostly older white men) right next to deep dives on the structure of Psalms sung by rural churches (white highly educated Prostetant men deeply committed to preserving a dying art form).

These church podcasts captured what seems to be the very last working examples of a type of church music that used to be very common. Future archeologists will listen to things like the short-lived "Psalmcast" podcast and I hope they treat it like we now treat Alan Lomax's work.

The voices in the podcasts were, and are now today, almost always white men. But, in the beginning, there was more age diversity, more income diversity, and a wider range of "quirkiness". 

A warning is due here. We cannot and should not assume that all of these podcasts are still available. There is a shockingly large amount of original, creative, innovative early podcast work that has been lost. I thought Radio-Free RFC Podcast would be easy to find on the internet today. After all, it is about the internet. But, I couldn't find any evidence that it ever existed. 

Content like Radio-Free RFC Podcast was produced during a time where assumptions about the media, the message, and the audience were fundamentally different than what we have now. Our current YouTube-dominated and professionalized and advertisement-laden podcast scene was different from what was going on during the Radio-Free RFC Podcast era. At that time, anyone, including myself, could have a podcast. I produced a church podcast for over a decade. I produced it for the local Catholic parish, but the people that it best served were in the military and people that lived in countries where Catholicism was harshly managed. I realized that the mission of this podcast was not what I had originally intended, and I did my best to serve marginalized, endangered, and stressed-out communities. 

What has changed? The professionalization of podcasts, the loss of truly democratic protocols, and the cost and complexity of hosting content. What has stayed the same? The stigma of producing vs. consuming media, because you are supposed to consume and leave the producing to the pros, and racism, sexism, and bigotry in media and performance.

I wish there were more podcasts like this one, now.

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